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by Scheinberg D
(Cerebral Beriberi; Korsakoff Amnesic Syndrome)

Definition

Korsakoff syndrome is a disorder that affects memory. It often happens in people who have had Wernicke encephalopathy .

The Brain
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Causes

This problem happens due to low levels of vitamin B1 (thiamine). Alcohol use disorder is the most common cause. It prevents the body from getting enough of this vitamin.

Other causes may be:

  • Eating disorders
  • Long term vomiting
  • Mental health problems
  • Chemotherapy
  • Cancer

Genes may also play a role.

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in men. It is also more common in people who are 50 to 60 years of age.

Other things that may raise the risk are:

Symptoms

Severe memory problems are the main symptom. A person may have a hard time remembering recent events and new information, such as today's date. People may make up information to fit a given situation.

Other problems may be:

  • Confusion
  • Learning problems
  • Problems communicating
  • Trouble focusing
  • Problems with walking and balance

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Memory function will be tested. This can be done with neuropsychological testing.

Images of the brain may be taken. This can be done with an MRI scan.

Treatment

Underlying causes will need to be treated. For some, this will mean not drinking alcohol. A rehabilitation program can help.

The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms and stop the disease from getting worse. Nutrition counseling and thiamine supplements may be used.

Prevention

Korsakoff syndrome often happens after a person has had Wernicke encephalopathy. The risk of this problem can be lowered by:

  • Getting enough thiamine from food sources
  • Limiting alcohol

RESOURCES

Alcoholics Anonymous  http://www.aa.org 

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism  http://www.niaaa.nih.gov 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Alcoholics Anonymous Canada  http://www.aacanada.com 

Dietitians of Canada  http://www.dietitians.ca 

References

Covell T, Siddiqui W. (2020). Korsakoff Syndrome. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.

Kopelman MD, Thomson AD, et al. The Korsakoff syndrome: clinical aspects, psychology and treatment. Alcohol Alcohol. 2009 Mar-Apr;44(2):148-154.

Korsakoff syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/korsakoff-syndrome. Accessed February 3, 2021.

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